The Druk White Lotus School is located in the Indus Valley, in Northern India. An environment of extremes, and lying at 3,500 metres above sea level, this is a high-altitude desert landscape where temperatures fall to minus thirty degrees in winter; for about five months of each year the region is cut off from the rest of India by snow. The Dalai Lama has been an enthusiastic supporter:
‘The idea of having a modern school which lays equal emphasis on the importance of preserving the valuable aspects of a traditional culture is very encouraging....I have always believed in giving equal importance to both modern and scientific knowledge and traditional Buddhist culture’.
The challenge has been to create a centre of local culture, education and communication that integrates Ladakh’s unique cultural and architectural heritage with appropriate opportunities to be found in contemporary design. The project not only seeks to minimise its own environmental impact, but also aims to help the local community thrive.
The school currently caters for 488 pupils from Nursery through to 14 years of age. The campus, with its educational facilities and residential courtyards, was completed up to Middle School stage in September 2011.
Buildings take maximum advantage of the high altitude and clear skies with active and passive solar energy collection. Classrooms face the morning sun to make the most of natural light and heat. The buildings are heated passively by the sun, either with fully glazed south facing facades or trombe walls. Solar water heaters provide hot water for showers and clothes washing. A photo-voltaic system provides reliable electrical power to the whole site using an installation of 9 kWp of PV panels.
Spacious learning spaces were created using timbers from Kashmir, granite blocks found on, or adjacent to, the site to form the outer walls, and traditional Ladakhi mud roofs (which provide good protection from the cold).
Two boreholes and solar pumps supply all water requirements. Human waste is treated in ‘VIP’ (Ventilated Improved Pit) dry latrines, and has been taken out of the water cycle.
The materials chosen resonate with the place, and provide surfaces to sit, climb and explore. The external landscape is articulated with low granite walls, steps and seats, planters and willow trees, creating scaled spaces for play and study. The school’s buildings are safe, sustainable and provide an extemporary learning environment to standards previously unavailable in Ladakh.
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